A MEETING WITH A MADCAP

Text by I. Fletcher, Figure by H. Poulten

Arquebusier Magazine

As the armies of the Turkish Sultans swept to conquest after conquest it was inevitable that they should incorporate into their ranks units from the newly occupied territories. This is exactly what happened to a corps of fighting men that was to become one of the most extraordinary and outrageous of all Turkey's allies - the Dehlis. The anglicised version of the word Dehli means, appropriately, madcap, although in their own language they were known as Zatasnicis, which meant 'defyers of men'. These Dehlis followed the Turkish armies without pay but were kept by the Pashas and Beylarbeys. They originally came from Bosnia, Serbia and parts of Hungary and Austria and can be traced back to the days of Alexander the Great.



The Delhis were extremely brave - the Turks translated Delhi into 'foolhardy' - and were usually of great stature. An European traveller, towards the end of the sixteenth century, saw a Delhi one day in Adrianople and, incredibly, had a conversation with him. The Delhi was wearing his usual outrageous mode of dress which consisted of a type of jacket made from the skin of a bear, as were his breeches. He wore yellow leather boots with pointed toes and high backs and heels which were shod with iron and large spurs. On his head was a large bonnet made from leopardskin which hung down over one of his shoulders to which was fastened the large tail of an eagle. Two eagle wings were fixed to it also by two iron nails. He was armed with a scimitar, a dagger and a mace. The traveller described him as being mounted on a Turkish horse decked with the whole skin of a lion, fastened lo which were a bow, a lance and a pole-axe. Through a translator, the traveller asked him about his ancestry and his religion. He also asked him 'why hee did apparrell himselfe so strangely, and with such great feathers?' The Delhi replied that it was to make himself look more fearsome and furious to his enemies. As for the feathers he said it was the custom amongst his people that only those who had accomplished some brave or memorable deed wear them and that they were 'the true ornament of a valiant man of warre' which was, as the traveller wrote, 'all that I could learne of this pretty Delly'.

Source:
N. Nicolay, Perigrinations Faites en Turquie 1577

Another illustration with Dellis and Dellis in another
. Peregrinations faites en Turquie, 1577
Ottoman Illustrations of Costume and Soldiers